My Neighbor the Southpaw

PITTSBURGH – 1987: Pitcher John Smiley #57 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

A couple of years ago- I saw this guy across the street struggling with the heavy snow in his driveway. I was using my snow blower at the time and went over to help him. He appreciated it and we got to talking. He looked kind of familiar and he introduced himself as John. Turns out he is John Smiley, formerly a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I remember him pitching and remember his great career of 12 years with the Bucs, the Minnesota Twins, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians. With an ERA of 3.80 and a 126-103 win loss record, John has a lot to be proud of in his former career.

PITTSBURGH – 1989: Pitcher John Smiley of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1989 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Fast forward and I see him a lot recently hitting whiffle golf balls in his yard as he has taken up the game of golf again after his arm is finally healed after all these years of curve ball abuse. Of course I engage him about baseball. I was always a fan of baseball as my dad used to take me to Forbes Field as a kid and I saw all the greats from the 1960s play. Sometimes professional athletes or former athletes hesitate to engage in conversation about their sport but John is an extremely knowledgeable and engaging guy who loves to talk baseball. Right up my alley. We got to talking about his fun times in the Fantasy Camps in Florida in which he participates. For those of you who do not know, fantasy camps are for old guys trying to relive their youth on the baseball diamond with their old heroes. They pay a lot of money to play and the former professional players like John love to participate and tell all the old war stories in the evenings around the dinner table. John loves to tell me how funny former pitcher Steve Blass is and also about Bill Mazeroski’s amazing stories about the 1960 World Champion Bucs. I was amazed that Maz still participates at his age but these guys love baseball.

The University Club Father Son Baseball back in the day with my dad.

John likes to tell me stories about the nuances of the game like when he was pitching and the opposing team would pick up on his cadence and signal to the batter what pitch was coming. They stole the signals. One game in Montreal, John and his catcher at the time decided not to use any signals to throw the opposition off. They won easily and it was a moral victory for John and his catcher. I asked him what he thinks of the new electronic strike zone and John enthusiastically applauds it saying that any technological advance in the game that takes bad calls and chance away is a good thing. I was always a fan of baseball and loved my time playing in minor league, little league and pony league as a fat little catcher before moving on to other sports. But always liked baseball and to have a neighbor who loves to talk baseball and knows what he is talking about is a plus.

John also talks about how his father worked with him and got him to be dedicated to the game at an early age. Like a lot of kids who grow up to be professional athletes, there was not much time for fun outside of baseball. You had to train, play and practice at a very high level to make it. He said that he missed a lot of things as a kid growing up but would have never made the major leagues if it had not been for his dad and the coaches he had. He said that making it involved a lot of playing in the south in the heat. That separated the men from the boys, in John’s opinion, and in order to make it in the majors, you had to be dedicated and able to perform in all weather especially the heat.

A lot of professional athletes, again, don’t like to engage in conversation with fans. But John is quite the opposite. He sees that I am enthusiastic and interested in what he has to say about the game of baseball. I love his stories. Jan thinks I may be bothering him but I always insert myself in conversation with John while he is practicing with the whiffle balls. He is always quite energetic and never minds my endless questions. But that is who he is. A successful retired professional who loves the game and now has a nosy neighbor with whom to trade stories. As you would suspect from maybe knowing me, I tell him stories too. But nothing can compare to a career on the mound for a professional baseball team.

I am a talker. I struggle with listening sometimes but I always make a point of listening to John. I force myself to shut up and listen. A skill which needs constant work. But my talkative nature has led to some great conversations and ultimate friendships with some really interesting people. If I hadn’t initiated conversations with John, I would never know the great stories he has in his head. You have to listen, but you also need to initiate conversations sometimes. You never know how you will be rewarded. Thanks for reading.

Anyone Can Be a Father. It takes Dedication to be a Dad.

Curt Wooten on left. AKA “Pittsburgh Dad.”

Curt Wooten is a funny guy. As “Pittsburgh Dad”, he has created a comedy routine that is really popular here in Pittsburgh. But for those of you out of town, you will still appreciate his antics on his weekly You Tube videos. Remembering this photo from a few years back and also the poignant statement above about being a dad, many memories are filling my head on Father’s Day.

I will never forget the day we brought our son Jack home from the hospital. I said to my wife Janet, that life will never be the same. As a rookie dad, I was always trying to do the best for Jack and it all began with me trying to get him to do the things that I like to do. Skiing, riding a bike, hiking, all the outdoors stuff.

Mt. Rose, Nevada
Skiing with the boys.

I even made an effort to teach him all about American history with trips to Ft. Ligonier( of French and Indian War Fame), Fort Pitt, Williamsburg, VA and our famous trip to Gettysburg on the way to the shore. We looked like the Clampetts with fishing gear on the roof, bikes on the racks and tons of luggage I hired a guy to guide us and he drove our vehicle around the famous Gettysburg Civil War sites and after about three hours, he lost Janet and Jack – but I was enthralled. Again- it was all about me and what I liked and what I thought was important.

Jack at Williamsburg

After many days of hikes, bike rides in the woods with Jack on the “tag a long” and skiing, he came to me in the 6th grade and said he wanted to play basketball. I said” Basketball?” We are outdoors people! Janet looked at me and said,” it’s not all about you big guy.” So we began the basketball wars and I became fully engaged in Eden Christian Academy basketball, North Allegheny Basketball, and AAU Basketball

AAU Nationals in Florida with the DeJuan Blair All Stars.

Jack and I would attend Pete Strobl’s Scoring Factory at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and I was fully on board with his training with Pete. http://www.thescoringfactory.com Pete- who currently coaches a Pro team in Europe, taught Jack a lot about basketball but more importantly he taught him about commitment, hard work and effort that pays off in life.

The most fun times were with Darelle Porter ( former All American from Pitt) who coached Jack when he played for the Dejuan Blair All Stars in AAU Basketball. Darelle and the other coaches would ask me if I played and if I coached Jack. I politely responded that I was an outdoors guy, never visited gyms, and couldn’t even dribble. They took me under their wing and thus the fun times with DB.

Time moved on and Jack lost interest in basketball and became a gamer. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around video games which are extremely popular but conflicted with my image of Jack as an outdoors guy or a seasoned hoopster. College came on the horizon and Jack finished up with an accounting degree and magna cum laude from La Roche University. He now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and works with a company that does audits of credit unions. I can’t even balance my checkbook.

Marisa and Jack

The interesting thing now is that Jack’s girlfriend is getting him to do all the things that I liked to do outdoors. Hiking, walks along Lake Michigan, kayaking, and he is even playing hoops again at his local health club. He still has a deadly three point shot and has always been a fan of the NBA.

These days, as empty nesters, Janet and I look back and think about all the good times we had raising Jack here in Pittsburgh. We miss having him here but realize that he has his own life now and he is different in many ways than we are. As a type “A” guy, I always wanted to direct Jack’s life but realized that Janet’s adage that ” its not all about you big guy” is a real fact of life. I think often of how I tried so hard to be a good dad and not just a father like the saying above says. We all have the calling as dads to teach our children principles, raise them in the faith, and in general get them started on a good path in life. But the lesson for me is that now Jack has his own life and I must let him live it. In many ways, Jack teaches me now. But I am still old school in a lot of areas. Still write checks, put stamps on envelopes, mail things at the post office, and I think things like Venmo are cartoon characters. Jack just shakes his head as he tries to get me into the 21st century.

We don’t see Jack as often as we would like. He makes his excursions to Pittsburgh and we have a whirlwind time catching up with him and just letting him tell us how life is for him without offering much advice( or at least we try). We make the treks to Grand Rapids to spend time with Jack and Marisa and go to the lake and to other mid west attractions like the Tulip Festival in Holland on a recent trip.

But for the most part, on Father’s Day, I think about the privilege that I have being a dad. The opportunities that we gave Jack pale in comparison to the blessing that we have had with Jack as our son. Father’s Day is about being a dad. And for the record, I did ask Jack, now that he is again doing some outdoor ventures, if he would like to ski again? He was a decent skier. But he said, ” Truthfully dad- I never liked the cold.” Go figure- Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thanks for reading and happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

The Tour de Death

Make Chetlin Great Again- seen here on the right.

So in the continuing effort to MCGA( Make Chetlin Great Again) a couple of us got together the other evening and took Jeff for another mountain bike ride. He is making amazing progress after a stroke a year ago and soon will be back to full strength. So, after a rain storm, it was decided that the trails in Frick would be a little sloppy. So Jesse Seager, the restauranteur extraordinaire( go to Point Brugge in Pittsburgh to find out), Darryl Huber( uber athlete in from Colorado for a visit) and yours truly took to the roads of ………..a cemetery. We laughed and called it the Tour de Death but Jesse told us when the trails in Frick Park get too sloppy in the winter, he can get a good ten miles in on the mountain bike all along the roads that go through the cemetery.

The Benedum Crypt

The amazing thing is all of the famous people interred in this famous cemetery. Business leaders like Michael Benedum, Henry Clay Frick, Henry J Heinz, Senator John Heinz, Henry Hillman and Willard Rockwell. Entertainers like Erroll Garner and Walt Harper are also interred here along with Jock Sutherland – former Pitt football coach and Pie Traynor- hall of famer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the truly neat thing about cycling through the cemetery is the beauty of the place and the incredible mausoleums and crypts of some very famous families in the Pittsburgh area. It occurred to me that people really went into a thought process about their memorial places and what they wanted to leave behind as a memory and tribute to their lives here in the ‘burg. Jesse and Jeff, as locals, gave us a great tour and it was in no time at all that Jeff probably had the most mileage and time on the bike to date. Every ride gets better and better for this guy. It won’t be long until he is 100 percent full strength. Who ever thought that part of his rehabilitation would be laps through a famous cemetery?

No complaints from the customers here.
People are dying to get in.
Military Sections Too

As we peddled along, Jeff commented that among all the groups he is involved with- skiers, moto- cross riders, and snowmobilers, he seems to think that the mountain bike community is the best. More laughs, more genuine people, and one of the reasons he won’t move permanently to his other home in Bend, Oregon. He likes the mountain bike community in Pittsburgh, even if we do ride through cemeteries from time to time.

The cemetery makes you think a little as you go along as to what is really important in life. Jeff commented that as we get older, it is not about how fast we go on the trails, how many miles we did, or even where we rode. It is more about getting together and enjoying the great outdoors. It’s being with friends, talking and laughing, reminiscing, and in general enjoying each others company. It rained on us a little bit but as mountain bikers, we really don’t care. We enjoyed the ride, the company and the views.

So the next time you think that it is too muddy to ride, maybe think about your local boneyard. It is quiet, peaceful, and offers some dry riding in the worst of weather conditions – and no cars which is a bonus. Take a tip from Jesse and Jeff, go hit it and when the trails dry, you can tell some stories out there about how you saw Pie Traynor’s final resting place. Thanks for reading.

The Rails to Trails Diversion

A sunny start

So it’s Memorial Day weekend and Jan says to me, ” I would like to ride my bike.” A little unusual because she does not ride that much but enjoys it when in the mood. I suggested a rails to trails ride and since we were making the effort, why not drive a little bit to maybe one of the more scenic Rails to Trails in our area – the Butler-Freeport Trail. For those of you who are visiting Western Pa. and want a diversion from the really impressive mountain biking in these parts, the Butler Freeport Trail is a relaxing option. As you meander through quiet farmland and along gurgling streams that seem to sparkle in the sunlight, you are amazed at how relaxed it makes you feel. Rails to Trails are basically flat as they follow old railroad lines that have been converted to bike trails.

Unloading the rack.
So many farms along the way
Jan says I look like a police officer. LOL!!

The Butler Freeport Trail is not unlike the many rails to trails that are in our region. Very well maintained and really not that crowded even on a holiday weekend. Runners, walkers and hikers enjoy the trails but for the most part, most of the users are cyclists. Mountain bikes are a good choice but you see all kinds of clunkers out there as well as the increasingly popular E-Bikes. Unlike mountain biking in the woods, the rails to trails allow one to look around to take in the scenery. You can cruise at your own pace and not have to worry about trees, logs, rocks, stumps, etc. that make you focus on a typical mountain bike ride. Personally I like riding with my wife, but I also like riding at the relaxed scenic pace on rails to trails. It is a great diversion from my usual mountain bike rides on the rocky, rooty, hilly, trails of Western Pa.

The nice thing about making the effort to ride Butler-Freeport Trail is that when you are finished, there are many optional side things to do in Butler County. We always gravitate towards Freedom Farms who have a nice market, donut shop, and outdoor dining venue in an open barn. Freedom Farms specializes in fresh produce, and their own hormone free, grass fed beef, pork and chicken. If you grab their brochure, there are many events that take place on the farm all through the year. From farm to table dinners on specific Sundays during the year that are paired with beer tasting and wine tasting, to fall and Christmas activities that showcase the work of the farm in all seasons. The King Family owns 200 acres of farmland right near the Butler Freeport Trail that make up the Freedom Farms. They are a friendly, hard working family who take the time to stop and answer questions and show you around.

A stop at Freedom Farms is a must.

After picking up some produce and nice hanging baskets, we made our way to my standard stop at Hammer’s Frozen Custard. Now for those of you who have not sampled frozen custard like Janet, you are in for a real treat as no ice cream anywhere can beat frozen custard. So much so that we got a cone and then brought a quart home.

Bounty from Freedom Farms
So good!!!!!

I guess the point of all of this is advice to make a day of it. Take a nice relaxing ride in the country on a rails to trails, see the local spots and have a nice time of it with your significant other. I have vowed to take Jan to several more rails to trails systems and see the associated fun places to eat and shop along the way. For me, it is a nice diversion from the usual ride in the woods where at the end of the day you are exhausted and perspiring like you just jumped out of the shower. There are rails to trails systems everywhere, all over the country. Take the time to visit them, ride them, enjoy them and instead of always trying to beat your pal up a hill or beat your Strava time, relax and enjoy the ride. Thanks for reading.

Photos by Janet McCloskey.

The Trails Are For All of Us

Laguna Beach, Ca
State College, Pa.

So I was rocking down the trail the other day with a bunch of my pals in a tight line on our mountain bikes. As we rounded a corner, I was the last guy and I heard behind me,” You’re Welcome!!” Feeling like we had committed a transgression, I stopped, turned around and saw a woman hiker who obviously was not happy. I knew the guys would wait for me up ahead so I turned back to address the lady and say that we were sorry for not thanking her for moving off the trail to let us by. I explained that I did not see her as surely I would have thanked her per my custom with hikers and runners on the trail. I also told her I have a bell where if I see someone hiking or running or riding for that matter, I use it to give them a courteous notice that I was coming. This conversation with the disgruntled hiker was not cutting it as she said, ” Why do I have to always move for you guys?” I replied once again that I was sorry and apologized for the rest of our group. But it got me thinking. The trails are for all of us and we need to be courteous to all who use the trails, no matter what. Sure we were flying and everyone in our MTB group was working hard to keep the pace of the line. But, obviously this was not received well.

Fast forward, the other day, I was riding by myself in our local North Park trails, and came upon a woman and her family and three dogs. Two nicely behaved golden retrievers and a smaller dog who was quite young. I rang my bell, was courteous and thanked her for moving the dogs as I sped by but I could tell she was uncomfortable moving the dogs and trying to keep them off the trail to let me by.

Hiking in North Park- Pittsburgh , Pa

I did one more lap around and came upon them again and this time, I got off my bike, moved off the trail and said to them, ” Now it is your turn to pass” with a big smile on my face. She appreciated that and it kind of broke the ice a little bit and she explained that she had some difficulty with a mountain biker the other day. Seems like a guy came roaring by them and startled their little dog, who I found out was a rescue dog. The rider never said sorry or thank you for moving, just roared past her. The lady explained that after that event, the little dog was terrified of mountain bikes and asked if she could walk her past my bike to show her that all mountain bikers are not scary and rude. We exchanged further pleasantries and I went on my way feeling that perhaps I had diffused some hard feelings and maybe I helped show the lady and her family that all MTB riders are not the same. I told her in passing that we try to educate newer riders on the courtesies of the trail, but some people- just like on the the trails of life , are only thinking of themselves. More education is needed.

My family likes to hike too.

My wife and I are avid hikers too and I can certainly see the conflicts that take place from a hiker/runner perspective on the trails. I notice when riding sometimes that trail runners and hikers sometime take a more aggressive attitude when we are passing them on mountain bikes. But I get it. They probably have had similar experiences as my friend with the dogs. I see the disgruntled looks on their faces and my immediate reaction is ” Hey- I pay my taxes too!!!” But then I think, be courteous, ring your bell. Smile and thank them for moving. I always think that the best way to improve perception is to be polite, courteous, and respect others on the trails.

The other users that need a lot of respect are the horses and their riders. Our group makes a habit of getting off our bikes, standing well to the side of the trail, and greeting them in a friendly manner. Most of the equestrian types are nice and very thankful that we move. Horses are easily spooked and I am sure they have had their moments of nervousness with a group of mountain bike riders.

The last thing I am going to comment about here is trail work. If you are going to claim certain rights on trails and use them frequently, it might not be a bad idea to give a little sweat equity to http://www.trailpittsburgh.org if you live in the local area. There are opportunities for cyclists, runners, hikers, and equestrians to work together on trail projects. Not only does that improve our trail systems but it gives all of us users a chance to work together and talk about some things that maybe need resolved. If you are open enough to listen to concerns with other user groups, you will be more educated as to their issues and work to resolve them – one trail day session at a time.

Our group of courteous riders visiting Wild Wonderful West Virginia

These trail improvement organizations are everywhere and no matter where you live, you can get involved and maybe learn a little bit about other user groups. In my mind, trail use is a little bit of a microcosm of life in general. Interaction with people where courtesy wins the day. Shouldn’t that be the way we all behave as we move through life ? We all use the trails to get away from the stresses of daily life and to get some exercise in a great environment. The trails are for all of us. Thanks for reading.

The Final Ride

After a wonderful memorial service for our dear friend Brian Lunt, our group of riders were asked by Brian’s wife Rose to take Brian’s ashes for a final ride in the park- on his beloved trails. We all wondered how this would go and the task of filming the event fell on Dave Ashi with his brand new Go Pro and also Nancy Furbee who was backup with her I Phone. Nancy was quite creative with her Facebook video and Dave and Tim Traynor did a great job with the Go Pro video so that Rose and her family would have the event forever memorialized.

Spreading one’s ashes seems to be more popular these days as folks have favorite places where they would like to be laid to rest – rather than a cemetery plot. There are stories of people’s ashes being spread at sea, on ski slopes and trails, and in this case- on mountain bike trails. This is nothing new but it seems to be gaining in popularity and our group was happy to be compliant with Rose’s request.

Discussing our protocol

As we began the procession, the weather seemed to hold off and we were blessed with a good start – attributed to Brian looking over the proceedings from above. I had the urn in my riding pack and was dubbed ” the Hearse” by the group with a few chuckles along the way. But as we proceeded along the familiar trails of our local park, I thought about my own mortality and how a 61 year old guy like Brian is now gone. Someone who we have ridden with, laughed with, and with whom we have had many conversations on the trails and ski slopes, is now not going to be physically part of our group anymore. It makes you think. It also makes you think where and how you would like to be memorialized when the time comes. We definitely wanted to make sure that Brian was properly remembered and aside from the physical spreading on the trails, Mark “the Shark” Sauers made sure of it with his wonderful words of encouragement to all of us including fond memories of our pal Brian.

Mark set a spiritual tone when we stopped to distribute the ashes in the first location. When you see the remains and think of things like” remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” you need the encouraging words that Mark shared with all of us. This is not the end. Death is a transition for believers and we all came away with the thought that we will all see Brian again. I thought of Revelation 21-4 which says that in the end, ” He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain. For the old order of things has passed away.” You can’t help to think of all of this when you are involved in something like we did that day. But Brian would not like us to all be somber either. There were many laughs along the way as we proceeded to the next stop. Our pal Bill Belch kept dropping his bike while we were standing and I joked with him to ” get it together Bill- this is a funeral you know.” We all laughed at that one, including Bill, and it kind of broke the more serious tone at the moment.

The final stop was at a scenic overlook in the park and as it started to rain, no doubt due to Brian saying” Get on with it people”. I warned the group about the wind. It was rather humorous to see us releasing Brian to the wind only to have him come back in our face. I am sure he was laughing at that one and we all joked about Brian making it difficult now with the rain and the wind. As we all put our feet in a circle of solidarity at the end of the day, we all had positive thoughts about something that we were not sure of. How was this going to go? How do we carry the urn around? Will this be somber or will we have some fun doing it, in compliance with Brian’s wonderful sense of humor? In the end, we all said that this is how we all wanted people to remember us. Take us all to a place that we love and be among friends – even though it may only be in spirit at the time. It was a positive experience and it also was an event that solidified our friendship even more. We all loved riding with Brian and Rose was right- this was the right thing to do. Thanks for reading. Photos courtesy of Nancy Furbee

Mossy Lane

Did you ever notice that some people have amazing talent? Some in more than one area. I think of Tony Bennett, obviously with his singing, but did you also know that he is a very talented painter? His art is displayed in some fairly exclusive galleries. Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane also has a gallery of her art in Sausalito. How do some people get all the talent? I suppose once you are a creative artist, that can be displayed in many ways and there are a lot of people who not only have the ability, but they take the time to share their work with all of us – much to our amazement and benefit.

Elaine Root is one of those people. When you walk into her shop in Aspinwall, Pa. you are first impressed at the cozy location on a side street that is very welcoming. Oftentimes with the door open and Elaine smiling there to greet you. As you roam her shop, you are amazed at the quantity and quality of the clothing there. I think my wife could buy out the whole store if you gave her enough time. The interesting thing is that all of the beautiful clothing on display is made by Elaine herself.

Wearable art.

Elaine is a busy person. Finding the time to prolifically create skirts, blouses, hats, scarves, purses, wraps, and a myriad of other selections is mind boggling. My wife Janet particularly liked a black dress that was just a little too long and Elaine took it immediately to her table and shortened it just right to change the whole look. She has an eye for fashion and knows what looks good on people. She can size you up as you walk into her shop and pick some of her creations that fit the bill amazingly well. Janet is sold on Mossy Lane.

But more importantly, Janet is sold on Elaine. Her inspiration to open the shop came from her mother- Mossy, and she dedicates a lot of her effort to her mother with whom she was very close. But there is more to this story. I know Elaine from mountain biking. Elaine is an excellent rider and many people do not know, but Elaine and her ex-husband Maurice, created one of the most beloved mountain bike magazines to ever hit the stands- Dirt Rag Magazine. For those of you who do not know, Dirt Rag was published right here in Pittsburgh and its circulation reached world wide status. Elaine used her creativity to develop the story lines, edit submissions, and together with Maurice, they made an iconic publication that rewarded them with an entry into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

Another world of creativity

Dirt Rag was not the typical magazine that only reviewed products, and was just a repository for advertising dollars, but rather it developed the soul of mountain biking by offering articles and submissions that talked about the off beat subjects that were associated with the sport. Dirt Rag was one of the first places that I read about craft beer( a mountain bike staple), out of the way places to eat and stay in famous and infamous mountain bike locations world wide. Articles about the pioneers of the sport who were personal friends of Elaine and Maurice. So many different articles and submissions that really separated them from the other published magazines. So much fun to read and so informational. Elaine was responsible for the quality of the content. She is a talented editor and writer. And now devotes her time to her other craft of clothing creativity.

Elaine is one of those people of whom I first mentioned above. Talented in different areas and a creative artist in different genres. Sometimes that abundant talent comes with some difficulty. Elaine is currently challenged by a health issue that will require her to take some time off with her husband Scott and address something that totally took her by surprise. You wonder why something like this happens to someone who is so creative and gives so much to the world? But Elaine is a competitor. Her mountain bike racing days taught her grit and determination to succeed. Creating a world class magazine and forcing it to succeed also developed her determination. Finally her tireless work to create fashionable clothing and make her Mossy Lane a success comes with a lot of chutzpa-(look it up). I am totally convinced that Elaine will beat this challenge because she is positive, joyful, and has an upbeat take on the situation. I told her that our prayers are powerful as well and there are many examples of success.

Elaine’s equally talented and amazing husband Scott.

Elaine will take some time off shortly, attend to her treatment and healing, and in no time I am convinced that she will be back creating the things that make us all smile. Check her website http://www.mossylaneproducts.com for hours of operation as she makes her way through the process. But remember what Elaine says,” I make clothes that remind me to breathe. To stop and take notice.” Elaine has dedicated her whole creative life to that process. Support her shop, pray for her successful treatment and healing, and most of all- marvel at the amazing talent that some people are blessed with in this life. Thanks for reading.

The Well Rounded Athlete

I came upon a post last week in Facebook by Julie Gavrillis describing how she came back into contact with a mountain bike that she had not seen in years. Julie was the manager in 1994 of the Volvic – Power Bar Women’s Mountain Bike Team and the bike that she received recently belonged to one of her riders- Susan DiBiase. Julie went on to say what a nice, humble champion Susan was and how she was privileged to manage that team back in the day. The tie in here is that Susan and her brother Jimmy are old friends of mine from our skiing days at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Susan developed into a multi- pronged professional athlete being on the U.S National Freestyle Skiing Team from 1988-1992, The Budweiser Pro Mogul Tour -1992-1994 , and also a professional mountain bike racer for GT from 1990-1993, Volvic- Power Bar in 1994, and finishing with the Evian Women’s Team from 1994-1996. She also spent some time in 2007 as an Ambassador for the Professional Women’s Team- Luna Chix. But my little story about Susan is how she first became involved in cycling which all started with local rides with our Moon Cyclist group and the ACA weekly criterium races at the Highland Park Zoo.

The recovered mountain bike from back in the day.

Susan first started with road riding and racing and would bring her pal from Penn State to the races to ride with us during the week. Karen Bliss was Susan’s pal and was 4 time U.S. Points race champion on the track and 3 time National Criterium Champion and recently nominated and entered into the U.S. Bicycle Hall of Fame. At the time, Susan and Karen were training and racing, and because we were friends who first got her started in cycling along with Susan’s step father, Paul Phillips, they would be gracious enough to ride with our group. I can remember telling the guys at the time that we had special guests riding with us. Gary Gillis and Mike Mihok from the Moon Cyclists were skeptical at first, but when Susan and Karen would pound us into submission and the guys would look at me and say ” Who are they?” I would laugh and say-” try to keep up”. The only reason we were not dropped weekly was that the girls didn’t know where they were going. They had to rely on us for the route- otherwise we would never have seen them.

Fast forward- Susan set her sights on pro mountain bike racing and had success with several teams. She never forgot her old pal Pat, and when I would go to mountain bike races back in the day, Susan would always make sure I was involved and introduced me to her team mates and friends from road cycling and mountain biking. I met all the luminaries of the sport through Susan and those were fun days to be sure. I felt proud to have been a part of Susan’s riding history and she was always gracious enough to mention it to her friends and team mates.

At the World Championships in Vail in 1994, my friend Bob Anderson( local mountain bike racing legend),Tim Sweeney (local masters racing legend) and I took in the races as spectators and saw the world’s best compete. We watched John Tomac win the downhill in a black skin suit looking very much like Darth Vader as he rocketed down the course. We hiked all around the cross country course and watched the men’s XC races as well as the women and cheered Susan on with her team mates. Again, Susan made sure our experience was complete as she invited Bob, Tim, and me to the after -race party for sponsors, suppliers, and teams competing in the championships. We walked around with our passes and bumped heads with all the legends of the sport and Susan was so happy we enjoyed the event. I needed to get back to Denver to catch a flight and was trying to see where Bob was so we could leave. I looked into the mosh pit at the party and saw a horizontal Bob being passed around by the crowd and was resigned to the fact that Bob was having a great time and the ride to Denver would be a quick one with Bob napping in the back seat.

Susan and Julie Gavrillis reunited

Currently Susan is the General Manager and U.S marketing director for Babolat- a universally well known equipment supplier in the tennis world. She and her husband Peter live in Fraser, Colorado and Susan is still very active in her athletic pursuits. I was happy to see the post by Julie and the many memories that it brought back to me. As Julie says, you will not find a more caring person than Susan and her smile and giggle will always be remembered locally and also throughout the sports world where Susan competed many years ago. Hopefully we will reconnect someday but in the meantime- I have Jimmy. Thanks for reading.

Nothing like Patriot’s Day in Boston

Patriot’s Day in Boston is aligned with the running of the Boston Marathon. This year is it Monday April 18th. Back in 1987, my pal Jack Mook asked me if I ever ran a marathon? He also told me that he was injured and wanted to know if I would consider running Boston? He would give me his number and I could run it if I wanted? I only ran in the winter for fitness. I thought about it and immediately responded in the affirmative and thought about what it would take to run the thing. I did my due diligence, ran my 20 in a raging snowstorm, went to Boston with Hot Harry Kirsch, Les Brodie, and Carl Trimbur and finished in a respectable time of 3:17. Not bad for a guy who basically rides a bike. The bus ride to the start was a bit intimidating seeing that I was in the company of a lot of pure runners and it seemed like a loooooong bus ride. LOL!! But the best part of that day for me was not the running, but the auxiliary experiences along the way which made it most memorable.

Joan Benoit Samuelson

Experience #1- I went to the expo and met the 1984 Olympic Marathon Champion – Joan Benoit Samuelson. She was at the Nike booth with Frank Shorter and we had a great chat because we have a mutual friend- Jace Pasquale. As it turns out, Jace was Joan’s ski race coach during her years at the University of New Hampshire and all Joan could talk about was ” How is Jace?” ” What is she doing now” ” Please tell her hello from me.” Joan was such a friendly and unassuming person who was so humble – very impressive for an Olympic gold medalist. We chatted for a long time in the line and the people behind me were getting miffed so I thanked her for the time and moved on to collect some Boston Marathon SWAG.

Experience # 2- being with Carl, Harry, Les and Bill Shillinger, my running partner for the marathon. Bill had agreed to run with me and we had a great time. Bill kept my enthusiasm in check as we ran through Wellesley College with the roar of the college girls that could be heard for miles. I came smoking out of there all pumped up but Bill told me to slow down or I would have a problem. He guided me past the Green Monster of Fenway Park and as we finished together, I realized how valuable Bill had been for me in this initiative.

Hot Harry only had a running bag with another singlet and a pair of running shorts and a toothbrush. He traveled light but snored like a Stihl chainsaw- driving Les to sleep in the closet of the hotel room. Another treat of the hotel was the fact that the elevators were broken after the marathon and there was no hot water. A cruel punishment for those of us who had just run 26.2 miles. But eating at Legal Seafoods and laughing about the whole thing made me think that this mishap was all part of the experience. Running down the Newton Hills beat up my thighs to the point that I had to walk down stairs backwards the next day in the hotel and in the “T” running around town. I did not realize that running downhill beats you up more than anything.

Hot Harry- the man , the myth the legend

Hot Harry and Carl Trimbur are no longer with us. But the laughs of us all in one hotel room and traveling up and back to Boston is a time that I will cherish forever.

Experience #3- Boston is a wild place during the Marathon. So many people packing the sidewalks cheering on the runners along with the smell of beer all the way down Boylston St. Boston is resilient and even with the tragedy of the bombing a number of years ago, they have that Patriot spirit that keeps Boston strong. Eating Italian in the North End, seeing the sights from the Revolution days, and in general, taking in all that Boston has to offer is really the true essence of Patriot’s Day and marathon weekend.

I don’t run anymore because I am preserving my knees for cycling and skiing. But when I see the marathon on TV every spring, I think back to the good times that I had with the guys, the experiences of running the event, and the pull of Boston that will always bring me back to visit. Thanks for reading.

Back in the Saddle

Jeff- back in the saddle.

You know, it is particularly gratifying when you see someone overcome an unexpected and debilitating event in their lives. Our friend Jeff had such an event nearly a year ago and has been working hard to overcome the effects of a stroke which had him on the ropes for most of the past year. After a routine heart valve replacement, he had a stroke in the hospital and was able to be treated immediately. Jeff is an avid mountain biker, backcountry skier, hiker, snowmobiler, and general outdoors superman. This was tough on him. But with a lot of hard work on Jeff’s part with UPMC Centers for Rehabilitation Services, and prayers from a lot of people, and the unwavering support of his wife Julie, Jeff has been able to make a comeback slowly but surely with walking, hiking and this weekend, back on his mountain bike. He is literally and figuratively back in the saddle again. Gene Autry would be proud.

Jeff and Julie hiking at Laurel Mountain

So this weekend, my pal Pete and I were on notice that Jeff wanted to try riding his mountain bike. He had told us how he has been riding rollers at UPMC Center for Rehabilitation Services, on the Southside and how he wanted to give it a go outside. Pete installed flat pedals on Jeff’s bike and as we pumped up the tires and checked the bike overall, he seemed ready to go. I threw Jeff’s bike in my Jeep and the three of us made our way to the bowling green area of Frick Park which is relatively flat. A good place to start in the grass in the event of a possible spill. The last thing I said to Jeff before he mounted his favorite Spot mountain bike was, ” Jeff- don’t even think about it. Just ride your bike.” He agreed and the next thing you know, he is off and peddling. Pete and I never touched him which really surprised us seeing that we both expected to be balancing him on his bike and running beside him. This was surprisingly not the case and as Jeff rode around the grassy area around the bowling greens, we were very much surprised at his ability and progress. We immediately called his wife Julie who was visiting her son at school and sent her some video of the event. It was nothing short of a miracle and so gratifying to see that huge smile on Jeff’s face as he did laps around the park. He even made it out on to the road, made a left turn with his leg out motocross style, shifted up and peddled up the road past us. All three of us were so thrilled and the event of the day was a huge success. Jeff is on his way now and Julie, Pete, and I will be taking him out and we believe soon, he will be riding his beloved trails of Frick Park again.

Jeff front and center with his posse.

You know, most people don’t survive such an event in their lives. Or at the very least, it redefines their way of living. With the help of friends here and in his adopted other home- Bend, Oregon, Jeff has been encouraged to work hard and overcome an adversity. Julie has been unwavering in her dedication to her husband, and Jeff’s friends have all stepped up to help which is a testament to the mantra that ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” Jeff is that model and because of his friendship to so many people, everyone stepped in to help and get this guy back in the saddle again. It was a long time coming and Jeff still has some work to do. But this weekend showed that with tenacity, and the power of prayer, one can overcome what would take most people down. It won’t be long until this is all a distant memory and we all will be riding together and not giving it a thought. Good on ya Jeff. Loved seeing you on your way back. Thanks for reading.